21 August, 2013

Zimbabwe's Election Was Not Credible

by Leon Hartwell

Shortly after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced the disputed election results, President Jacob Zuma was quick off the mark to applaud President Robert Mugabe and endorse the elections. He sent his “profound congratulations to His Excellency President Robert G Mugabe on his re-election as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe following the successful harmonised elections held on 31 July 2013.” He further urged “all political parties in Zimbabwe to accept the outcome of the elections as election observers reported it to be an expression of the will of the people.”

A peaceful election day by itself is not enough to declare it free and fair. One of the basic premises of assessing the credibility of an election is look at the electoral process as a whole. There were many irregularities with Zimbabwe’s electoral process.

To put things into perspective, during South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, under the leadership of Madiba, the ANC garnered only 62% of the vote compared to ZANU-PF's supposed 68% win in Parliament during Zimbabwe’s latest election.

The period leading up to Zimbabwe’s elections already paved the way for a dubious process. In October 2012, Mugabe assigned nine important Acts under the office of the President. These Acts include the Commission of Inquiry Act, Emergency Powers Act, Interception of Communication Act, Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act, and the Zimbabwe National Security Council Act. Mugabe’s excuse was that “those functions have not been assigned to some other minister”, yet each act allowed Mugabe to gradually usurp more power and exploit it to ZANU-PF’s advantage.

Mugabe - Flickr - Al Jazeera English
Still in power: President Robert Mugabe

On the 13th of June 2013, Mugabe used his Presidential powers (thereby bypassing Parliament) to amend the Electoral Act and unilaterally set the election date for six weeks later. This is despite the fact that many outstanding issues in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) were unfulfilled. Although it was unrealistic that the entire GPA would be implemented, the purpose of the agreement was to promote sustainable peace and development. Thus, it required that some of the most important issues agreed upon by the Government of National Unity (GNU) be dealt with before Zimbabwe headed for another election.

Zimbabwe had a special vote on the 14th and 15th of July intended for civil servants and the security sector. Due to major delays and irregularities on the special voting day, some observer missions and civil society organisations described it as “chaotic”. Even before the process commenced there was a lack of transparency about the process. ZEC announced that 87,000 applicants were approved to participate in the process. The full list of those approved for the process was not made public, which rightfully provoked suspicion among civil society and some political parties that some of the special voters were not eligible to vote. On the eve of the actual election, it was also unclear how to remove names of special voters from the voters’ roll to avoid double voting.

Before the harmonized elections, several potential voters in urban areas complained that they struggled to register as voters. This is significant given that the MDC-T appeals to urban voters. Some Zimbabweans that have voted in previous elections also claim that they were surprised to find out that they have been de-registered to vote without their knowledge.

Once the proclamation was made on the election date, the state-owned media went into full throttle in rolling out overwhelmingly pro-ZANU-PF and anti-MDC propaganda. State media provided ZANU-PF with mostly positive coverage and whenever any of the MDC formations were mentioned it was generally in a negative context. Compared to any other party, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF received the bulk of coverage on press briefings and campaign rallies. According to the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, most hate speech throughout the election period in Zimbabwe can be attributed to the state-owned media, and it is often attributed to ZANU-PF members, including the President.

Vote-buying by ZANU-PF also became rife in the run-up to the elections. For example, almost two weeks before the elections, Grace Mugabe, the First Lady, allegedly handed out 22 tons of foodstuff in Mashonaland Central. In a country where, according to the Zimbabwe Statistical Office, an average person lives on $1.16 per day, the politics of the belly remains a potent tool to influence the vote.

During the period leading up to the elections ZEC outsourced the registration of voters, as well as updating, inspection and custody of the voters’ roll to Registrar General (RG). Voter registration, as argued, has been flawed but it is worth mentioning that the RG’s office has numerous court orders against him that relates to the failure to perform this function and allow for inspection of the voters’ roll. Furthermore, the final voters’ roll was not made public in advance of the elections. This is despite the fact that it should be provided to the public in electronic or hard copy within a reasonable time. Currently, the MDC-T is reportedly claiming that there are 870,000 duplicate names on the voters roll, representing almost one sixth of the total voters on the voters’ roll.

On polling day there were reports that youths, some of whom seemingly did not look 18 (the official voting age), were bussed into MDC-T strongholds where they presented fake voter registration certificates enabling them to vote. One such youth group was caught on film in Harare – they presumably travelled from the Honde Valley which is located at the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique, situated approximately 300 kilometres from the capital.

Several polling stations were set up at the last minute and their locations were not published in advance. As a result, party agents and election observers could not be deployed in time to properly monitor the electoral process. These polling stations were often in tents with no electricity, making it impossible to count votes under decent light.

According to ZEC own statistics, 3,480,047 Zimbabweans cast their votes during the harmonized elections. Almost 305,000 voters were turned away (mostly in areas considered to be MDC-T strongholds) and, despite the country’s high literacy rates, another 206,000 received “assistance” from election officials. This is serious as it represents more than 15% of votes cast.

There were also reports of stuffed ballot boxes, the extent of which remains ambiguous. ZEC nonetheless announced some results, which were very suspicious. In the 1980s, during Gukurahundi, almost 20,000 Ndebele were massacred by Mugabe in Matebeleland. Yet, according to ZEC, voters in Matebeleland overwhelmingly voted for Mugabe and ZANU-PF, which would be the equivalent of Apartheid victims voting for Hendrik Verwoerd and the National Party.

Another important questionable aspect of the elections is to the credibility of the judicial system, especially those that will be used for disputing the process if need be. The Constitutional Court and the Electoral Court dealt with most cases related to the elections. The former consists of the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and seven judges from the Supreme Court, while the latter is composed of the Chief Justice and several judges from the High Court.

Mugabe unilaterally appointed numerous judges shortly before the election in anticipation that some electoral issues will be legally challenged. He made all the appointments without consulting his then partners in the GNU and the Judicial Service Committee. For example, almost before the ink was dry after signing the new Constitution at the end of May 2013, Mugabe appointed two Supreme Court judges (and by implication judges serving on the Constitutional Court). Again on the 14th of July, two weeks before the actual election, Mugabe appointed six new High Court judges while one judge was elevated to the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe. Given the circumstances in which these courts were stacked in favour of ZANU-PF, one cannot expect them to deliver a fair judgement.

As argued, the electoral process as whole remains deeply flawed. Many of the above issues are in conflict with SADC’s own guidelines on elections. Zuma’s rush to wish Mugabe “profound congratulations” is thus hard to come to terms with.

*Leon Hartwell is an independent political analyst

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